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Pence’s 12th-inning homer leads Houston past Milwaukee

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KRISTIE RIEKEN
May 5, 2008
— Houston Astros manager Cecil Cooper was completely optimistic when Hunter Pence, 0-for-5 to that point, went to the plate in the bottom of the 12th with the game tied at 6.

“I said to (bench coach) Jackie Moore, you know Hunter’s 0-for-5 here. He’s not getting out a sixth time,” Cooper said.


Pence proved his manager right with a two-run homer to lead the Houston Astros to an 8-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.


“It was time. I thought that was the perfect spot for him,” Cooper said. “It was beautiful.”


The home run to left field by Pence, in his second season, scored Lance Berkman and completed Houston’s comeback for its third straight win. The Astros trailed by as many as four.


Mitch Stetter (1-1) gave up Pence’s homer, his fourth of the season.


Pence seemed a bit surprised when told of Cooper’s prediction.


“I didn’t really think of it that way,” he said. “You can’t worry about your last at-bat. The only one I was worried about was that at-bat and just going up there and trying to find a way to get a hit.”


Berkman had four RBIs and tied his career high with four hits, including a homer and a pair of doubles.


With two outs in the 12th, Houston’s Tim Byrdak (1-0) loaded the bases with walks but left fielder Darin Erstad caught J.J. Hardy’s pop fly for the final out.


“We had our chances, but we needed to get big hits late in the game,” Brewers manager Ned Yost said. “We had runners in scoring position, we just never got those big hits.”


Houston trailed by 2 entering the ninth and got singles from Erstad and Geoff Blum off closer Eric Gagne before Michael Bourn walked. Erstad scored on a groundout by Kaz Matsui to make it 6-5.


Miguel Tejada walked to load the bases before Gagne walked Berkman to tie it at 6. Carlos Lee grounded out to send it to the 10th.


“I put myself in positions I shouldn’t have been in,” Gagne said. “We played a really good game and I came in and messed it up.”


Jose Valverde pitched a perfect 10th for Houston and Salomon Torres did the same for Milwaukee. Both allowed a single in the 11th, but neither gave up a run to send it to the 12th.


Ben Sheets was denied his fifth win by Gagne’s fifth blown save. Sheets was better Sunday than in his last start when he set a career-high with seven walks. He allowed seven hits and four runs. He walked none and had six strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings.


He looks to be past the tightness in his right triceps that forced him to leave two starts ago in Cincinnati.


Sheets got his first hit of the season, a run-scoring double in the second inning that put the Brewers ahead 2-0.


“I felt good,” Sheets said.


Lefty Brian Shouse got the last two outs of the seventh inning for Milwaukee and Guillermo Mota pitched a scoreless eighth before Gagne’s terrible ninth inning.


Mike Cameron had two home runs and four RBIs for Milwaukee. The Astros cut the lead to 2-1 before Cameron led off the third inning with his first homer. Houston got within one again before his 3-run shot to left center field in the fourth inning on reliever Dave Borkowski’s third pitch.


The three-time Gold Glove winner is in his first season in Milwaukee and played his sixth game Sunday. He’s settling into his role on this offense after completing a 25-game suspension for testing positive twice for a banned stimulant while with San Diego.


Cameron’s other homer of the season came on Friday against Houston.


Houston’s starting pitcher Chris Sampson didn’t fare well, allowing five runs and a season-high nine hits in 3 1-3 innings, but the bullpen kept the Astros in it. After Borkowski gave up the homer to Cameron, Houston relievers Geoff Geary, Wesley Wright and Doug Brocail combined for four scoreless innings.


“The bullpen was outstanding today,” Cooper said. “They’ve all really thrown the ball well. The big boy Valverde stepped up a little bit. I think he had some of his best stuff today.”


Lance Berkman hit his 10th home run of the season to right field in the second inning for Houston’s first score of the game. His double in the third inning scored Matsui and made it 3-2.


Matsui and Berkman both had RBI-doubles in the fifth inning to cut Milwaukee’s lead to 6-4.


With two outs in the eighth inning, both Berkman and Matsui ran to catch a foul ball from Prince Fielder. As they both held their gloves out into the first row of the stands a boy did the same and the ball dropped into his glove, drawing a confused look from Matsui.


Houston got out of the inning when Brocail caught a fly from Fielder.



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